LITERARY FICTION / AMERICAN LITERATURE
THE LYRIC STORY OF THE NET GENERATION--GROWING UP AND COMING OF AGE ON THE INTERNET
He knew the telephone early. Where there once had been indifference, when first he'd only noted just an olive-colored blemish on the wall, soon came recognition and finally even curiosity. In time the thing took on a great significance.
It would sometimes shake the room in a flaring jingle, causing everything to freeze, and the lady would rush over to attend to it. It went like this no matter what--the lady would stop everything and run. She'd quiet it, speak importantly around it--perhaps even direct it--and he wondered if she'd set a timer to make it ring, for she seemed to control it sometimes by lifting up the handset while a finger carefully revolved the dial front. She'd stand there for great lengths of time, gesticulating wildly--dictating to, conversing with, nodding toward, or otherwise influencing it, all the while with the handset propped up to the side of her head in what at first appeared to be comedy, but sometimes became a long and tedious routine.
It was some while and not without false trails before he discovered that voices fell from it: there were times when she held the handset to his head, and he was prodded, coaxed, urged to speak, and she'd tell him that these other people could hear him, she'd perform a litany of names; after confused deflections where he convulsively pushed back for fear that it might injure him, the magic was revealed one day when he finally acquiesced and felt the soft pitches of sound tickling the inside of his ear--and to her happy praise he quickly gurgled an acknowledgement.
Once he understood something of its workings, when he knew how it would pitch and jingle and then bring up the soft voices, he thought that it was a connection to the other side of the kitchen wall--he thought that there were adult neighbors sitting back in there, beyond the green and silver stripes of wallpaper, and that they were talking to them through it, summoning them at all hours.
Eventually he came to know that it actually reached out well beyond all that, through long wires, and soon enough he learned that the whole entire world was connected to it, was accessible from there and waiting for him at the end of a phone line. The lady told him this, he saw no reason to disbelieve her, and yet he harbored doubts--for it scarcely seemed possible. He'd stare at this fantastic gateway to the world and soon decided that it'd somehow bring him to his future, this great connecting force that wrapped around the whole entire planet and brought everything imaginable to the striped wall of their kitchen.
They were in the city of Clifton, one of the three-dozen great cities that had been built and blossomed there in the land of America, a sprawling metropolis along the upper edge of that crossroads state they call Sohola, which had the whole of America inside it--the nation ended abruptly at its northern shoreline, where beyond the soft ripples of the inland sea there was nothing but the vague promises of Canada, while if you drifted far down toward its southern border you'd notice that everyone had a different accent, and it never snowed so much in winter, and grits were on all the breakfast menus; it was also the state where New England undeniably saw its final end in those forested hills that tapered off along its eastern sections, where they'd come tumbling down from Ithaca in New York state, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and other points in that Appalachian highland that cupped the whole East Coast--and everybody knew that it was the place where the Midwest decidedly began, with all that farmland across the loamy plains that stretched all through the bedded night so long into the west.
Clifton pressed up tightly against the cold gritty shores of Lake Catawba, one of the vast and endless Great Lakes, those cool and glimmering inland seas of old America. ...